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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Space Jam: A New Legacy Review – A Visual Jumble Tossed in Nostalgia

For any 90s kid, Space Jam is a title that is etched in our minds. It is one of the VHS Video Tapes that might even be sitting in your cupboard, gathering dust, waiting to be watched.

Well, the first instalment released in 1996 and definitely was a trailblazer by amalgamating live-action with animation, creating an almost magical experience.

Originally, it was headlined by Michael Jordan and at that point, life situations were different. Even the type of animation and cartoon characters which we consumed has evolved and now, perhaps a distant memory.

Now, 25-year-later, with an influx of technological developments, the generation is experiencing challenges like never before. Lo and behold, a standalone sequel is served by Warner Bros – directed by Malcolm D. Lee.

Basketball champion and global icon LeBron James and his youngest son Dom (Cedric Joe)—who dreams of being a video game developer rather than follow in his father’s footsteps—find themselves trapped in the Warner 3000 Server-Verse, a virtual space ruled by a tyrannical A.I. by the name of Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle).

After Dom is captured, LeBron must save him and get home safely by leading Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Lola Bunny and other notoriously undisciplined Looney Tunes – voiced by Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza and Zendaya.

Together, they must win a basketball match against Al-G’s digitized champions on the court, the Goon Squad: a team of powered-up virtual avatars of professional basketball stars.

Even the mention of ‘Looney Tunes’ sounds like a flashback. To finally see all characters which once adorned the childhood of generation(s) is a nostalgic treat. Interesting references to the cartoon character facing a conflict of rootedness and progression is quite relevant. It suddenly transports us back in time, to a point.

Seeing references to a ‘GameBoy’ also adds to the nostalgia. The speciality of Space Jam films is the seamless fusion of animation and live-action… Creating this fantastical medium that enlivens basketball to new magical heights. In addition, it creates a tongue-in-cheek appeal of how these two opposite styles of cinema can beautifully co-exist.

The concept works. But sadly here, the execution does not.

The issue with Space Jam: A New Legacy is that the paper-thin plot majorly lacks depth and empathy. All we see is a dysfunctional father-son relationship and the whole crux basically centres on that. There is very minimal development (even though LeBron James is playing himself) between both the main characters.

Even the villain for example, who seems like someone straight off a pantomime show has very shallow context. Seeing an algorithm in human form with some sort of vendetta against the legendary basketball player – even if it is a grudge – just does not make sense. It just seems he is an antagonist for the sake of adding some sort of threat to the narrative.

The film is drenched in loud sounds and visual aesthetics splashed to the screen, with the hope that something will work. Sure, the backdrop is set amidst the dark side of technology. There is no strong screenplay or thick plot to strengthen the film as an overall product.

I can grasp that the movie is targeting family audiences and young viewers, but with a solid story – the overall viewing experience would’ve been engaging to watch. Plus, the children of this generation are much socially aware/intellectual. So whilst the slapstick nature of cartoons may have appealed to some in the past, here, it feels out of place.

Moreover, it does not help that the humour on most occasions are forced and cringeworthy, where even children may miss the joke.

What is also unappealing, is that the entire experience just feels like a self-absorbed love letter. As the animated version of LeBron James explores various franchises by the production house, the vibe feels quite self-congratulatory. At the end of the film, if there was a character or a film you did not know that was backed by the production house, you will eventually discover that it was.

Pop culture references are always delightful to watch but when a film is saturated with it, I feel that it becomes quite exhausting. Also, popular characters from other Warner Bros horror films appear a spectator in a particular scene – so for the enthusiasts, you will be happy to see that.

It’s interesting how LeBron mentions something along the lines of how athletes and acting do not make a good combination. At this moment, irony strikes. Whilst he is (and will always be a Basketball legend) but acting does not seem to be his cup of tea.

I understand that the franchise is based on real-life sports personalities, but somehow, the lack of expressions and depth disables the viewer from relating to the character and his situation. It creates more of a disconnect. At times, it feels like he is reciting lines for an advertisement and I just wish that more preparation was involved and due credence was given to these aspects.

Space Jam: A New Legacy had the potential to break the glass ceiling further for the magnificent union of animation and live-action cinema. It had all the right ingredients to create the next popular family film, especially with heavy nostalgia as its appeal factor.

Sadly, the film turns out to be a visual shambles. The wistful yet amiable cartoon characters are delightful, but apart from that, everything else is forgettable. 

Everything is Looney here, with hardly any Tunes. 

⭐⭐ (2/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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